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Regular version of the site

Sociological Approaches to Urban Environmentalism and Compassion in Healthcare

HSE Assistant Professor of Sociology Ruben Flores, PhD talked to the HSE news portal about his presentations at the ASA and ESA sociology conferences this summer, about forthcoming sociology seminars at HSE and about why living in Moscow is interesting for sociologists.

— Could you tell us a bit about your participation at the American Sociological Association and European Sociological Association conferences this summer?

— I would say my participation in these two conferences was very fruitful. At the American Sociological Association, I gave a presentation at a roundtable in the section on Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity. It was a small but lively roundtable, where all participants were able to give one another feedback.

My participation at the European Sociological Association (ESA) was based on a distributed paper for a session organised by the Sociology of Health and Illness network. I was really pleased that quite a few people showed interest in the paper before, during, and after the session.

In both conferences, I had a chance to meet and catch up with colleagues, professors, and friends from different universities, including HSE students and staff. HSE’s participation speaks well of our sociological community. It provides great opportunities to engage with the wonderful diversity of topics that comprise sociological research today and to meet people who share very specific interests within the field.

— What work did you present at these conferences? How did you start these projects?

— My presentation at the American Sociological Association conference was based on a project I am currently developing with my colleague Dr. Aleh Ivanou, who until recently was based at  Södertörn University in Sweden. We started the project last year, within the framework of a research group at HSE (Научно-учебная группа "Социология публичной сферы"). We are investigating the motivations and meanings of two groups of Moscow urban/environmental activists.

The second paper is a theoretical piece that seeks to reflect on the different levels at which care is both configured and constrained. It builds on some previous work that my co-author, Dr. Patrick Brown at the University of Amsterdam, and I have done on a closely related topic. After the conference we received some very useful feedback, which we are now trying to incorporate into our paper.

— What are the main findings of your research? What did you expect and what was a surprise?

— Both projects are still works in progress, so it would be a bit difficult to discuss our findings here. However, I would say the following. As far as the first project is concerned, I have been somewhat surprised by the intricate life trajectories and backgrounds of some of our respondents. Their accounts reveal experiences of suffering (during the 1990s) that are quite shocking. The complexities of settling urban property rights in Moscow and the difficulties experienced by those aiming to advance environmental agendas can be baffling. This is the first time that I have used qualitative data from Russia. Reading and trying to make sense of our interviews has been a challenge, but also a very good exercise in Russian language and culture. Thankfully, my co-author, who is a native Russian speaker, conducted most of the interviews, and has been leading the process of analysis and interpretation.

As far as the paper on care is concerned, it is really interesting to see that compassion has become such a big issue in England in the National Health Service. One interesting question is why this is so - why compassion has been mobilised by different actors as a way to make sense of a scandal in healthcare provision. 

— Tell me about your interactions with colleagues at HSE?

— Getting to know and collaborate with my HSE colleagues has been really exciting. There is a very dynamic community at the Faculty of Sociology and beyond, with a lot of people doing interesting projects. I feel fortunate to have these colleagues, and have already learned a lot from them.

— You have been working and living in Moscow for a couple of years. Do you feel like a Muscovite? What do you enjoy and what bothers you?

— I do not consider myself to be a Muscovite, but I do not feel out of place here anymore. Though I have made a point of exploring the city, there are quite a few places that I have not yet visited. Still, I am always happy when I am able to help tourists to find their way around. It makes me feel a bit more at home! Moscow is a fascinating place for a historically-minded sociologist like myself. Take the metro, for example - “that great sprawling beast of history and modernity, marble and mire”, as a recent Philadelphia Weekly piece aptly put it. Air pollution really bothers me though; I wish Moscow was more environmentally-friendly.

— What are your plans for the coming year?

— I plan to keep working on my research stream on care and compassion. I am also working on a comparative project on Russia and Mexico, which has quite a few sides to it. Plus, I have a number of papers in the pipeline, some of which are joint projects - for example, a paper on ethical and academic aspirations in the field of management research with Dr. Ryan Burg from the Management Faculty.

As far as my teaching is concerned, this fall I will be teaching a graduate course on civil society, and in spring I will be co-teaching a new undergraduate course provisionally titled sociological reasoning.

We are organizing a research seminar series in the Faculty of Sociology. This term’s seminar will feature a number of lectures under the umbrella theme “sociologies of morality”. One of our speakers, Professor Emeritus Stephen Mennell (University College Dublin) has kindly offered to teach a one-day graduate workshop, the provisional title of which is "Power, knowledge and civilisation: Norbert Elias's anti-Kantian sociology". Information about the seminars and the workshop will soon be available on the seminar series’ website. I look forward to another great year at HSE.

Anna Cherrnyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service

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